DEL NORTE- The world is full of controversial subjects these days. Everything from left to right political views to societal norms that are shifting into a new era and a world that seems to be moving forward to a new way of thinking. The town of Del Norte is no exception. It is not until these issues have woven their way into the hearts of the community that residents, guests and neighboring townships see what people are made of.
A recent speech made during Rural Philanthropy Days by Justin Garoutte in the Gateway Church has sparked such controversy in Del Norte and beyond. The speech prompted a local pastor to turn to his congregation to offer solace and reaffirm his belief as a Christian. The Del Norte Prospector reached out to all of the parties involved and spoke with some of the people who were in attendance during the disputed speech that took place Sept. 17.
Pastor Greg Schaffer of Gateway Church and Keynote speaker Justin Garoutte have both expressed a need to find closure. Both parties are working with local SLVPride representatives to come to an agreement and move forward to a cohesive future for the Valley.
When asked to clarify some of the issues surrounding the disputed speech, pastor Schaffer clarified that he did turn off the microphone during Garoutte’s speech for a small amount of time before turning it back on and allowing Garoutte to finish. “I thought it was a technical error at the time. It wasn’t until later that I was told that the incident was done on purpose,” stated Garoutte.
Pastor Schaffer also stated that he was not given the opportunity to read or decline the speech before the event. The Prospector reached out to a member of the local planning committee for Rural Philanthropy Days, who wishes to remain anonymous, who did confirm Schaffer’s statement. “We vetted the people who we chose to speak, not the actual speeches.”
Garoutte, however, stated that he sent his speech and letter of interest to the planning committee for Rural Philanthropy Days back in April and was awarded a spot as one of their keynote speakers. “My speech has been performed by high school students, there was nothing in it that was offensive and anyone who wants to read it can online,” said Garoutte.
Schaffer also took time to explain his sermon to his congregation regarding Garoutte’s speech which sparked the controversy and subsequent protests after it was shared on YouTube. In his sermon, the pastor uses the term “one prayer cleansing” near the end of the video that caused an “uproar of hurt” in the LGBTQ community and beyond. Schaffer stated that the church uses the term “cleansing” quite frequently, and in this case, it was not used in reference to the fact that Garoutte was gay.
“I used a term that is used throughout the bible, especially in the Old Testament, that refers to our tradition of cleansing sin from our lives. It was not a cleansing of the building because he was gay, it was a cleansing of the words he used while standing on our pulpit and in our building. I wanted a cleansing of the offensive dialogue not because of the fact that he was of the LGBTQ community,” said Schaffer.
The part that “crossed the line” for the LGBTQ community was a video of pastor Greg Schaffer’s homophobic “cleansing” sermon being shared by the Church in the public domain.
“It is one thing to preach within the confines of your own church, and I completely respect that. It’s another when you release those same sermons out into the public where they can land on a variety of ears, including young LGBTQ+ people who are still trying to find their path and navigate growing up in the Valley as I did years ago. As a public health researcher focused on the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ people; I see how blatant homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and interphobia increase minority stress which in turn is associated with negative health outcomes among LGBTQ+ people. These health impacts include increased risk of suicide, depression, anxiety and substance use, just to name a few. Because pastor Greg Schaffer and Gateway Church released the video, they have a responsibility of acknowledging how harmful, both emotionally and physically, their homophobic sermon is to LGBTQ+ children and adults in the Valley and beyond,” explained Garoutte.
According to local law enforcement officials, since Garoutte’s speech and the video of Schaffer’s “cleansing sermon” were made public, the Gateway Church and Schafer’s family have received death threats, threats to burn down the church and a promise that the protests would continue until the pastor made a public apology. The protests that were to take place have been called off in light of recent threats made against pastor, the church and his family. Schaffer has also written a letter to the LGBTQ community and has met with key representatives to come to an understanding that supports both the acceptance of the church and the LGBTQ community.
Through amendable conversations, among all parties involved, sources stated that an agreement has been reached and all parties are looking forward to a future of acceptance for the community of Del Norte and the Valley as a whole.
“First of all, foundations and funders in Colorado need to provide long-term funding to organizations in the Valley committed to and working toward LGBTQ+ health equity. Secondly, organizations and individuals who hold power in the Valley must speak up in solidarity with and act out their allyship to the LGBTQ+ community. We cannot let homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and interphobia become the norm in the Valley, but not saying anything risks just that. Remember Silence equals Death. Finally, in order to protect and support our LGBTQ+ youth in schools across the Valley, the following are a few things that school administrators can do, such as, form support groups like Genders and Sexualities Alliances and provide teachers and staff with LGBTQ 101, Trans 101 and QPR Suicide Prevention training,” stated Garoutte.
Editor’s note: Garoutte requested that his speech be published in entirety in Valley Publishing Inc. newspapers. The speech was too lengthy to be published in print but is available on Valley Publishing’s websites.